Gold miners and mining

Find information about gold miners, mining companies and daily life in historic Victorian goldfields.

Gold miners

Photograph, group of men standing at diggings, washing out a good prospect

Washing out a good prospect, circa 1858, H84.167/34

Gold miners often led an itinerant life, following rushes from lead to lead, so tracking their movements can be difficult. Birth, death, marriage, cemetery and inquest records may all be useful when you are tracing a miner's movements and life story. The birthplaces of children can also provide clues about where their miner father lived, worked or visited over time. You can search many birth indexes by father's name to find any children fathered by a miner.

Newspapers often record a miner's fortunes, good or bad, including gold discoveries, accidents and court appearances. There are many indexes and search engines to help you find articles in newspapers.

Dorothy Wickham's book Family history research in the central goldfields of Victoria outlines useful research techniques and resources, as does Helen Doxford Harris' Digging for gold: a guide to researching family & local history in Victoria's central goldfields, and Shauna Hicks' Tracing mining ancestors: a brief guide to resources in Australia and New Zealand.

Fred Cahir's free ebook Black gold: Aboriginal people on the goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870 discusses Koorie miners.

You can also try searching these name indexes:

Goldfields people

Apart from gold miners, the goldfields were full of people supplying the miners with goods and services, government officials, mine managers, miners' families, farmers and local Aboriginal populations. Our guides to key family history sources and Aboriginal people and family history will help you to find birth, death, marriage, cemetery, inquest and probate records, as well as listings of names in postal directories and property rate books.

Newspapers are another key resource for finding information about individuals, families and businesses on the goldfields.

Watercolour and pencil drawing, shows various figures, including diggers, ladies and some mining equipment; Black Hill goldfields, later a suburb of Ballarat.

Eugene von Guerard, Blackhill 21 Febrav [i.e. February] 1854, H26004

You can search our catalogue by topic or place name to find more resources, for example a search for Maryborough history will find the book Maryborough: a social history 1854-1904 which includes lots of information about gold miners and mining in the area. Here is a sample of some of the useful resources that are available:

Newspaper articles

Newspapers online

Many gold rush era newspapers can be searched and viewed through the website Trove. Newspapers from this era contain very detailed information about mining activity on the gold fields. For example you can find information about companies (new mines opening, company share prices, machinery, employees), reports on mining licence fees, information about local accommodation, transport and the cost of living, and court and police reports.

Many issues of the following newspapers are available to search and read online, on Trove:

Newspapers on microfilm

There are many gold rush era newspapers available in microfilm format at the State Library of Victoria.

One such paper is The Ballarat Times, an important newspaper for understanding the conflict which occurred at Eureka. It was the only newspaper produced on the Ballarat goldfields at the time of the rebellion, and was strongly supportive of the miners' rights. An index to names mentioned in the Ballarat Times provides clues for researching people in Ballarat in 1854.

Newspaper indexes

Useful newspaper indexes include:

Ararat and Pleasant Creek Advertiser
1857 to 1924, 1928 and 1949 to 1983
Arranged by topic and location, not by name.

Index to Ballarat names 1854: from the pages of the Ballarat Times

Bendigo Advertiser personal notices
1854 to 1920
This index includes references to some mining-related deaths.

Creswick and Clunes Advertiser
May 1859 to December 1862. Some missing issues, for example January 1860, are not indexed.
A surname index only. Includes names mentioned in advertisements, tenders, unclaimed letters, courts, and mining reports.

An index to newspaper items for Stanley and surrounding districts
This index is arranged by subject, including mining, people and hotels

Indexes to Melbourne newspapers are listed in our How to find items in newspapers research guide.

Accessing newspapers

For more information about accessing newspapers, visit our How to find newspapers research guide.

First discoverers of gold

The discovery of gold in New South Wales by Edmund Hargreaves in February 1851 had led to a great number of people leaving Victoria to search for gold. To stem the number of people leaving the colony, a reward of 200 guineas was offered by the Gold Committee for the first discovery of gold in Victoria.

A payable goldfield was first discovered in Victoria in late June 1851, near the town of Clunes. James Esmond was credited with the discovery, although Aboriginal Australians and settlers had found gold in the area before him.

After several claims were made for the reward it was decided to share the reward among a number of the claimants. For detailed information on the claims and the names of the claimants see the book by James Flett, The history of gold discovery in Victoria, pages 7-24, and an article by Louis Cranfield titled 'The first discovery of gold in Victoria' in The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. 31, iss. 122, 1960, pages 86-96.

Miners' rights & licences

Gold Licence issued to William Pettard, Upper Lodden, March 1852.

Gold licence, 1852, MS 8203

Accessing miners' rights and licences
Most miners' rights and licences have not survived to the present day. There is no central index to surviving miners' rights or licences. A very small number of rights and licences are held by the Library, local historical societies, museums and individuals.

Licences
Miners in Victoria in the 1850s were required to pay a licence fee to the government for the right to dig for gold. Miner's licences were first issued on 1 September 1851 and cost 30 shillings a month (later reduced to £1 a month or £8 a year). The licence fees were supposed to cover the cost of maintaining the police force on the goldfields. However the fees collected were inadequate for this purpose. This led to increased licence charges.  

Protests by miners
The cost of the licence fee and the methods used by police to collect it were very unpopular among the miners. Protests occurred across the fields culminating in the rebellion at Eureka in December 1854. You can read more about the rebellion online:

Miners' rights
After Eureka a series of reforms saw the licence fee abolished and replaced with a miner's right issued at an annual fee of 5 shillings. This gave the holder the right to dig for gold and importantly the right to vote.

Watercolour, two miners beside their claim, pick lying next to the hole, one seated on bucket, the other standing. A uniformed man with a rifle is examining their miners' license.

S T Gill, The licence inspected, H86.7/7

Chinese on the goldfields

Chinese miner outside wattle daub hut, Man, whole-length, full face, seated outside a wattle & daub hut, a cattle dog standing beside him.

Chinese miner outside wattle daub hut H89.266/19

Websites

Many roads: Chinese on the goldfields (compiled by Culture Victoria) includes videos, essays, and a digital gallery featuring artefacts, documents, photographs and illustrations from museums, galleries and historical societies.

Gold! Immigration and population includes information about Chinese migration and 'changes to the law which made it impossible for Chinese miners to arrive at Victorian ports. As a consequence many Chinese miners travelled hundreds of miles overland from South Australia to the diggings in Victoria'.

Books and pamphlets

Search the catalogue for Chinese history Australia or Chinese history Victoria. You'll find many books, including:

Theses and talks

Objects

  • Miners' rights, 1881 issued at Ballarat in 1881, to Woon, Yooh; Chung, Coon; Ah, Shang; and Gee, Bang.

Chinese-Australian newspapers

Available online on Trove Newspapers:

State Library Victoria

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